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Home-field advantage: Saturday's football game at Golden Valley signals the start of school's stadium push

Golden Valley hopes to turn a scheduling blunder into a program-changing opportunity.

And perhaps get a football stadium as its unlikely reward.

The mistake in question occurred when GV scheduled a home game for this weekend against Modesto Downey.

Unfortunately -- or so it seemed -- Merced already had scheduled a game against Madera for Friday night at Merced College's Stadium '76.

After exploring other options, which included playing the game on Atwater's new Sprinturf, Golden Valley decided to host is first on-campus home game since the school opened in 1994.

The school will bring in 500 extra seats -- temporary bleachers -- for the Downey game, which will be played Saturday afternoon.

"It gives us an opportunity to have a trial run of playing a game on our campus," Golden Valley principal Craig Chavez said.

"We can see how many people show up and (we can) take a look at the logistics of playing games here."

The tripleheader begins with the freshmen kicking off at 11:30 a.m. The JV game will follow with the varsity scheduled for 4.

Golden Valley hopes this isn't a one-time event.

It's no secret the school wants to create its own football facility.

In fact, a Golden Valley stadium will be on the ballot this November as part of a $149 million school bond issue.

The big-ticket item on the bond is a third high school in Merced.

The bond also includes new gyms at Merced, Atwater and Livingston -- plus pools at both Buhach Colony and GV.

"Extracurricular activities are a huge part of high school," said new Merced Union High School District superintendent Scott Scambray, who coached football at both Hoover and Bullard in Fresno. "It's what keeps kids coming to school. Not to downplay what goes on in the classroom, but (sports) helps keep kids motivated in the classroom.

"Our kids deserve the same facilities as kids in Clovis or anywhere else."

As it stands now, both Merced and Golden Valley share Stadium '76 with Merced College.

With enrollment at both schools hovering around 2,500, the district is pushing for a third high school in Merced. That could leave three schools -- four if you count Merced College -- playing in one stadium.

"It's not a good situation," Scambray said. "Merced College has been very amicable. We have an excellent working relationship, but the bottom line is the field is going to get run down.

"We had a similar situation in Fresno where I coached, when we shared with McLane at Ratcliffe Stadium (also home to Fresno City College). One bad weather day and the field could be ruined for the year."

Hosting games at an on-campus facility also would eliminate some of the costs of playing at Merced College.

Adding in field maintenance, custodial services, utilities and security from both the Merced Sheriffs Department and Merced College police, the bill which Golden Valley and Merced split with the district comes close to $2,500 per game.

Merced netted just $400 from last year's home game against Turlock.

"For the most part, we rely on the gate receipts from our football program," GV athletic director Kurt Kollmann said. "When we're paying $2,500 per game -- that's a pretty big hit."

Some of the pieces for a stadium are already in place at GV. The bleachers that sit atop the fieldhouse seat close to 900 people.

Stadium lights already have been budgeted for GV, Merced and Buhach Colony -- using money left over for the district from a state grant that also paid for the Sprinturf and all-weather running track at Atwater.

According to Michael Belluomini, the district facilities planning director, an architect was hired in July of 2004 to estimate the cost of building a stadium at Golden Valley.

The architect produced a design for a 3,500-seat stadium that had an additional 1,360 seats on the home side and 1,280 on the opposite side.

The design included a plan to stretch the bleachers on the visitor's side from end zone to end zone, so that GV's baseball fields -- which sit adjacent to the football field -- wouldn't have to be moved.

Once the cost of restrooms and concession stands was figured in, the district's bill for the stadium was estimated at $4.2 million.

"Golden Valley won't be the only ones using it," Scambray said. "It becomes a community facility.

"Pop Warner teams will use it on Saturdays. Bands can use it during marching season. You cut down the use of the field at Merced College, you save money and it helps school spirit.

"I'm an old football coach. Right now, the district policy is one stadium for every two schools. Down the road...

"I don't know."

Kollmann also has talked with Chavez and GV football coach Jon Betschart about starting a booster club that could raise money for a stadium -- even if the bond issue fails.

"One way or another, we want a stadium on campus," Kollmann said, "even if we have to go out independently and do it -- although I'm sure the district and superintendent will back us up.

"We'll work with the community and see what we can get."

With Scambray and Chavez both committed to the stadium project, things look hopeful.

If things go as planned, well...

This weekend's game might turn out to be the greatest "mistake" in the history of Golden Valley athletics.